When I applied to Oxford, I knew I wasn’t signing up for the ‘average’ university experience. I had a vague idea of the traditional dress that we have to wear for things like matriculation and exams, but this was certainly not a key factor in my decision to apply. Looking at the admission statistics, it is true that more private school students apply to Oxford than those from state schools, but abolishing subfusc is not going to suddenly encourage everyone to send off their UCAS form with Oxford on it.

Instead, surely it is incredibly patronising to assume that non-public school students will feel intimidated by what we wear to our exams. To claim that making subfusc non-compulsory will aid access, encouraging more state school students to apply, is myopic and perhaps even insulting. I for one did not come from a private school and yet Oxford’s quirks and traditions certainly did not put me off. In fact, they were one of the aspects that most attracted me to the University.

A recent article in The Oxford Student does at least point out that there are other factors that are perhaps off-putting for potential candidates, such as the fact that we aren’t allowed on the grass… But if the referendum to stop compulsory subfusc secures sufficient votes to pass, where is this attack on our tradition going to end? Before you know it, we’ll have dead grass everywhere. In fact, we may as well get rid of the quads altogether because they’re not a key factor in promoting academic excellence.

Obviously I’m exaggerating, but it really is the same principle. We’re all incredibly fortunate to be studying at Oxford. Personally I think we should remember that and, as an extension, respect these traditions; traditions that have outlived so many people.

Here are six other things to think about before voting to get rid of it, or maybe five if you discount number two about how on trend we are going to be this summer. For proof of this see my subfusc (and Gossip Girl) inspired high-street picks below.

  1. Exams are important. Having a ‘uniform’ that we all have to wear for each University exam helps us to remember the importance of what we are doing. It also makes getting dressed in the morning before an exam, quick, easy and stress-free. Panicking about having nothing to wear is something we all experience and are more likely to when we’re already stressed. I mean have you read Matilda Kahl’s story that is currently circling the web? Rather than wear whatever she wanted to work, she has decided to wear a uniform to eliminate extra stress. Her uniform is chic, smart, and actually remarkably similar to our subfusc (minus the gown). Wearing the same thing in the exam also promotes a sence of community. Never mind the fact that by looking the same we eliminate distractions in the examination hall.
  2. Subfusc is cute. Granted, this is not really a reason to keep it, but as part of the fashion team I feel it is important to state. Again, look to Matilda Kahl. On top of this have you noticed how many sleeveless trenches and long-line blazers are on the high street right now? They basically look like gowns. (See below for our subfusc inspired high-street pieces). Meanwhile black and white will never go out of fashion.
  3. We like the flowers. Not only do they look and smell beautiful (as long as you don’t suffer from hay-fever), it really is one of the best feelings pinning on that red flower just before your last exam, knowing full well that it is going to get drenched in champers (and egg) in three hours time. [NB, unnecessarily killing plants is not a decent counter-argument].
  4. Hello quirkiness! Access reps are worried that subfusc is affecting equal opportunities, but is this not quite the opposite? It could be making those who are less well off more comfortable as it allows everyone to engage in Oxford’s quirky traditions.
  5. Yes we do have to buy these garments ourselves, but did we not all have to buy school uniform? Subfusc is also relatively cheap – around £20 – and there are bursaries available for those who cannot afford it.
  6. What is really wrong with dressing smartly? As second-year Brasenose medic Harry Knights pointed out, “I wouldn’t go to a job interview without wearing a suit, so what’s wrong with wearing this ‘Oxford suit’ to my exams? It’s not me trying to infer superiority and place myself above those not fortunate enough to be in the same position as I am, it’s me respecting Oxford and the opportunities it has given me.” Well said, Harry.

While none of the items actually conform to the regulations, they’re cute nonetheless:


Premium Pearl and Stone Choker, £100, Topshop; topshop.com

MOTO Loose-Fit Shirt Dress, £42, Topshop; topshop.com

Shorts with front pockets, £19.99, Zara; zara.com

Frilled sleeveless blouse, £14.99, H&M; hm.com

Black Leather Tassel Loafers, £29.99, New Look; newlook.com

Dark Grey Jersey Sleeveless Jacket, £55, River Island; riverisland.com

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